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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Cosmic Sin (2021)

I knew that this was going to be a bad movie before I ever popped it on. This flick is best known as the movie that earned Bruce Willis a Razzie for worst performance that was later revoked when it was revealed that he was suffering from medical issues that affected his speech and memory. But how bad could it be? And was it really such a terrible performance?

The movie opens with a crawl about humanity colonizing space and the inevitable conflicts that those early colonies had with each other. One of those conflicts was resolved by a general dropping a “Q” bomb on a planet wiping out tens of millions of folks. What is a “Q” bomb? I guess it makes a black hole and destroys everything in the nearby solar system.

Now we move to a couple about to get busy on an uninhabited planet. Aliens show up and this first contact goes poorly. The surviving crew is brought back to Earth for interrogation but has been infected and controlled by the aliens. They go on the attack and the military eventually kills them all. The disgraced general played by Willis is recruited on a team that is teleported out to the last known location of the aliens. With them they take another “Q” bomb to wipe out the enemy. There is some back and forth about morality before they shoot it into a portal that wipes out the aliens killing the entire race. So much for morality I suppose.

First things first. Willis isn’t the reason that this movie sucks. His performance isn’t even all that bad. I mean it is flat and he delivers his dialogue without much effort but knowing what we know now it all makes sense. The truth is he is barely in the movie enough to impact it at all. Apparently, he was on set for a couple of days and was paid a couple million bucks for his time. That said the movie is terrible it just isn’t his fault.

The story is complete and utter garbage. We have an interesting idea where the military has in place a plan that is executed on first contact with an alien race. If it is a positive for the human race then everything is fine. If it goes badly then we murder them all. While that sort of overly simplistic agenda might be somewhat accurate to how humanity would respond (we do sort of suck if we are being honest) it makes for a terrible science fiction story. I kept waiting for some sort of message or really anything clever but nope. It went badly so genocide time!

Well fellas... I hope the checks cleared!
The execution of the plot doubles down on the suck. You get random characters that appear and disappear throughout the movie. There are some familiar faces in addition to Willis like Frank Grillo, Lochlyn Munro, and Costas Mandylor. They clearly weren’t all available on set on the same days as they rarely share scenes together. This I’m guessing was the primary reason that the story feels so disjointed and choppy.

There is also a lack of budget getting in the way. We do get some CGI spaceships but at times they look downright awful. The crew is teleported to the planet, so we don’t any actual scenes set in a ship, the camera just goes zipping by them. The aliens possess human beings, so they saved some cash there by just having folks dressed in black being the invaders. I guess that means after the aliens take them over they go change into matching outfits before assaulting the remaining humans. A lot of the action takes place on a nearby planet aka. the woods in Georgia where this was shot.

Terrible story, misspent budget, bad editing forced by cast members not being available for the entire shoot all ends up making Cosmic Sin a complete waste of time. Oh, and that damn title. If it is meant to imply the destruction of an entire alien species is supposed to be some underlying message of it being shameful or sinful, then maybe don’t give the aliens lines like “either you destroy us or we destroy you.” They clearly want to wipe out the human race so what the hell is this supposed cosmic sin? This one is trash and you can skip it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, August 28, 2023

Scorpius Gigantus (2006)

Sometimes I just know what is coming and still can’t help myself. When I dug thru my pile of movies that I hadn’t watched yet this thing jumped out at me. Not literally as I don’t have a ghost haunting me that wants me to watch shitty movies. Not yet anyways… Seeing that it was executive produced by Roger Corman and starred Jeff Fahey I thought ‘Hey this might be okay.’ That was immediately followed up by ‘Don’t be a dumbass!’

The story begins with a convoy getting ambushed by some bad guys. They shoot the army dudes guarding it and steal the trucks. They think that they are hijacking some valuable plutonium but instead get some science experiments that kill them all as soon as they open the doors! We find out later that a lady scientist had genetically modified some scorpions with cockroach and human DNA to make a super drug that would cure everything. Hey if you are going to science badly at least be ambitious I say.

Then we meet some more army dudes lead by Major Nick (Fahey’s character) who practice saving hostages and then get sent to retrieve the bugs. Only they don’t know that they are looking for bugs until they run into them and some of the army dudes get killed. They get some NATO army dudes as replacements and then arm wrestle. Also Nick argues with the lady scientist some as well. Then they shoot a bug and find out that it isn’t dead because the bugs are able to “eat” the bullets that were inside them. How? SCIENCE! Almost all the army dudes die before Nick and the lady scientist decide to blow up the bugs. By then they are on a boat so that makes it much easier to accomplish. Why are they on a boat? Don’t know… don’t care. Just happy that the movie is over after an excruciating ninety one minutes.

I could tell by looking at the DVD cover that I was making a huge mistake. Not only is it incredibly generic but the tagline “In the Tradition of Starship Troopers” clued me in on a minimum effort production to cash in on what was renting well at the video store at the moment they crapped this one out. Sure enough this plays out just like a copy of a much better movie where the scriptwriters were more concerned about checking the boxes than they were about telling a story or developing characters.

A prime example of this is how we keep getting unnamed soldiers/cops/security/criminals walking into the same abandoned factory (the location where this movie was clearly shot almost entirely) to be killed off by the bugs. Don’t have anything to say or do… grab an extra and have him scream at the camera before cutting to some CGI blood. This happens over and over again, and it gets boring. I’d say this plays out like a video game but they at least try and have a story. I’m not even talking about the newer games either. The Pitfall guy on my Atari 2600 at least was motivated to not fall into the pits or get eaten by the alligator. That is more than we get with Scorpius Gigantus. How sad is that?

The cast is made up of Jeff Fahey and a bunch of folks who happened to be in Bulgaria where they filmed this thing. The only casting choices that I can see is if you have a less obvious accent you got to play the American soldiers and if you accent was thick you then became the NATO reinforcements. That is about all I can say about the cast. Well other than I hope that Mr. Fahey’s check cleared.

The special effects work is a combination of terrible CGI where the same model was used repeatedly and latex for the close up encounters. There is a bit of gore with the kills but not enough to make the ninety plus minute runtime any less painful. My favorite bit, and that wasn’t a high bar to clear, was the previously mentioned occasional use of a latex puppet for the close up attacks. That had a cheesy seventies feel to it that I appreciated and was the closest I got to enjoying what I was watching. I mean I didn’t but at least it almost happened.

I’m a huge fan of Roger Corman but this late in his career when you saw him as an executive producer it simply meant that he had a financial stake but likely not any creative control. Most of those movies ended up being as bad as this one. What is even more frustrating is this is a remake of Carnosaur 3 with the bugs standing in for the dinosaurs. Let me just say this. I watched Carnosaur 3. I know Carnosaur 3Scorpius Gigantus you are no Carnosaur 3! And Carnosaur 3 isn’t even that great of a movie! If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m not recommending this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Disembodied (1957)

Time for yet another bit of fun from the fifties. This one kicks off with a lady putting a noose around the neck of a voodoo doll and giving it a good squeeze. In the room next door a man starts to choke and struggle. Luckily for him she is interrupted and he immediately feels better. The woman is Tonda and the man is her husband Dr. Metz. Being that he is a doctor it isn’t much of a surprise when some men show up with an injured friend. Having been mauled by a lion he isn’t given much of a chance but Metz tries nonetheless. The two uninjured men bed down in a nearby outbuilding.

The rest of the movie is Tonda, who is a voodoo queen, trying to seduce and convince Tom, one of the men, to kill her husband. Why? Because she is evil and has tired of him. When they try to leave she sabotages their Jeep and kills their porter. When that doesn’t stop them she shows her true colors and stabs her husband threatening Tom and the other man with being blamed for the murder. Though he isn’t dead yet it isn’t looking good. There is also a subplot where Tonda kills a local native because he caught her making out with Tom. This is important because in the end that man’s wife gets some revenge and prevents Tonda from getting away with yet another murder to cover her tracks.

This is a decent bit of fifties fun. The story is fast paced and the movie is a speedy sixty-six minutes long so there isn’t much of a commitment here. Unlike many other movies from the decade of nuclear spawned monsters the horror here comes from voodoo. We get dolls, a couple of ceremonies, and men possessed to do Tonda’s bidding. If you are looking for a rubber monster suit this isn’t the movie for you. Honestly the lack of creature probably does hurt this one a bit, but Tonda is a decent villain and is played well by actress Allison Hayes.

The lovely Allison Hayes!
Hayes is best known for her roles in Zombies of Mora Tau, The Undead, and Attack of the 50 ft. Woman. I get a kick out of all these movies and she is excellent in them as well. Here she does a wonderful job playing a manipulative and murderous character. Without her performance I don’t think the movie works at all. Sadly, she retired due to health issues and passed away far too young otherwise I’m sure she would be a bigger name. The rest of the cast is filled with “B” actors and do a decent job in their roles.

While researching this review I found out that The Disembodied was released as the lower half of a double bill with From Hell it Came as the top half. This is one of those times when I think they nailed it. The movies have a similar type of location, has a few natives, and lots of drums beating away in the background. Of course, From Hell it Came does have the big rubber monster, in this case a tree demon, so that makes it slightly more fun. I think I’m going to have to recreate this double feature at some point on my own.

While not a perfect movie The Disembodied was fun. I recommend fans of fifties genre flicks give it a chance. Maybe in the double feature that I mentioned above. Now I’m off to watch another bit of cinematic nonsense.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Throwback Thursday - Return of the Living Dead by John Russo

note: I wrote this for my old website about a decade ago. Unlike many of my other Throwback Thursday posts I did go back and polish this one up a bit. The opinion didn’t change at all I just clarified what I was saying better.

Like I mentioned in my Night of the Living Dead review this is the second Russo novel to be republished recently in a large volume called Undead. Just to avoid confusion this book has nothing in common with the movie Return of the Living Dead. I mean the filmmakers started with Russo’s story, but took it a totally different direction completely rewriting the plot. Other than a character named Bert they are completely different.

The story picks up ten years after Night of the Living Dead. Apparently that rising of undead was brought under control and the dead just stopped coming back as quickly and mysteriously as they started to. The action takes place in the same county and follows Sheriff McClelland (from the movie) along with several other characters. These include a farmer named Bert and his three daughters, a couple of state highway patrolmen, and a group of looters. Over the period of one night they all have to deal with the walking dead as well as the brutality of man against his fellow man. 

There is an interesting germ of a story here. The looters holding everyone hostage and killing as they please was an interesting twist on zombie fiction. Remember this book was written in nineteen seventy seven so it is early in the rebirth of the zombie as monster and again focused on the humans are the real threat. Many of the characters were sort of interesting and could have been very memorable. Unfortunately, Russo doesn’t develop either the characters or story to take advantage of it. Instead we get a rehashing of Night of the Living Dead, literally. There are several chapters that are the same news reports from his novelization of Night of the Living Dead. And I do mean word for word… Then instead of fleshing out (pun not intended) the characters he has already created he just introduces more so that they can be victimized. It all feels like a missed opportunity to add to the world in which this story takes place.  

I will point out that I did get interested in Bert and his daughters’ story. They have a rocky relationship and don’t get along. But instead of running with that human element he kills Bert off and has the looters show up. Okay cool then make the story about that. Nope they leave and we pick up the story of the highway patrolmen trying to survive. About the time that this gets interesting he kills one of them off, introduces another family of oddballs (that also have potential). This continues until he has killed off most of them without really getting us engaged or caring about who lives and who dies. This sort of lazy attempts at story telling is a common theme in much of Russo’s work and after having read this novelization I can see by Dan O’Bannon tossed it in the trash for the new story that became the Return of the Living Dead movie. Thank goodness he did.

Back to the book though. Zombie fiction that focuses on setting up characters to knock them off is boring. What makes a movie like Night of the Living Dead, or a book like Reign of the Dead good is that they take the time to establish characters that the audience/reader likes and will root for. That makes the dying and living all the more engrossing. Just like every other type of fiction the reader needs to care about the characters for the story to work. I didn’t and because of that I simply didn’t care for this book. While I did enjoy his novelization of Night of the Living Dead I have to say that this one is a pass for me. Even for Romero completists this will be a disappointment as it doesn’t feel like it fits with the franchise.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Murder by Phone (1982)

The movie opens in a subway where after helping a man to his feet a young woman answers a payphone. You know kids before we had cell phones there were public phones hanging on the walls that you would put change in to make calls. When she picks it up there is a weird sound and her eyes bleed until it explodes, and she dies. That is a way to start a movie. 

We are introduced to a professor named Bridger next. He is headed off to a big conference but before he goes a friend asks him to check with the police into his daughter’s death. Sure enough it is the girl from earlier so Bridger tells him he will and does so when he gets to town. The police aren’t very helpful at first telling him that it was a heart attack. But he doesn’t buy that since she was a healthy nineteen year old girl. This gets him to start digging and soon finds out that the phone company is covering something up. 

I suppose I should also explain that before getting broken up in the eighties the phone company was a huge monolithic monopoly that used to operate at their own pace and the customer be damned. Hell, you didn’t even own your phone as it was just a rental that you paid for each month. Don’t like it… then live without a phone. Making them the villain of this story made sense and it was believable that they would just ignore the police. You all are getting a history lesson today. 

More bodies pile up making the police, specifically detective Meara, pay attention. There is also a lady scientist from the phone company, Ridley, who acts as a source of information as well as the love interest of Bridger. Soon the three of them are chasing after the homicidal maniac that is calling folks up just to explode their noggins with his crazy invention that allows him to murder them with their phone! See how they worked the title in? 

I really wanted to like this one, but it just didn’t work for me. The story starts off fun but then bogs down as we watch our main character dig thru papers, talk to witnesses, dig thru more papers, and sneak around the phone company building. Other than brief instances of folks getting deadly calls which all play out the same way, nothing happens for most of the movie. When the authorities do finally pay attention there isn’t even any attempts to connect the killings together. I mean it does eventually sort of make sense, though some of the killings are random. I mean what did the housewife doing dishes have to do with anything? Spoiler I don’t think she did.  

Axel from MBV shows up!
Of course, the above isn’t helped by the fact that this is not only based in technology that is completely foreign to audiences today with the pay phones and giant switches used to track down where the call is coming from. It reminded me of that killer sequence in Black Christmas where they are running around a huge bank of mechanical switches trying to determine where the obscene phone call is coming from. Like that movie this one is also Canadian. Unlike that movie this one is painfully boring. Also, there is the whole bit with the phone company being so powerful that folks just don’t get anymore as that is no longer the shared experience. 

Richard Chamberlain is our lead actor playing Bridger. He is decent enough in the role. There is also a smaller supporting role from the legendary John Houseman as a colleague who is in bed with the phone company and falls afoul of the killer. Another familiar face in that of Barry Morse also makes an appearance. Finally, since this was a Canadian flick it was cool to see a young Neil Affleck aka. Axel from My Bloody Valentine in a blink and you’ll miss it role as a phone technician. 

I don’t know if Murder by Phone played better when it was released forty plus years ago, but it certainly doesn’t work now. The movie is slow, the killer generic, and the story is filled with plot points that don’t translate well. Its just not very good and I can’t recommend it. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Road Trip – Monster Bash at the Canton Palace August 2023

It has been a while since I’ve been to a proper event/screening. Sort of got out of the habit with COVID but I decided it was time to get back in the theater watching movies. Now as many of you may know most new movies just don’t do it for me or at least motivate me to hit a brick and mortar theater. Sure, I’ll go to the drive-in, but the setting is what gets me there and the movies are just icing on the cake. But when I realized I’d have the chance to check out a couple favorites on the big screen for the first time I had to check it out!

Before I start I thought I’d fill you guys in on where and what I was doing. First up the event was held at the Canton Palace Theater. If you have read some of my earlier Road Trip articles you will notice that this is a theater that I frequently (or at least in the past) have visited. This restored movie palace, and it really is, comes complete with a gentlemen’s lounge, the original pipe organ, and a classic atmosphere that adds to the experience of going to the movies that much cooler. The Palace Theater was built when going to the movies was an event and they manage to capture that magic even today.

Monster Bash is a cool convention held in Pittsburgh. Not only does their show kick ass but they have all sorts of neat merchandise for sale at their tables. You may see them as they frequently setup at other shows. The folks involved have a real love for the classics from the Universal flicks, the cheesy giant bug movies of the fifties, to the in your face fun of Hammer if you dig old school horror/sci-fi these guys have something for you. That is why the line up of movies for the Friday/Saturday show was so killer. While I didn’t go to the Friday screenings, I wasn’t going to miss Saturday. Now that I’m done rambling lets get to the day.

The Pipe Organ played between screenings
I met my brother-in-law Richard for some lunch. The usual suspects bailed on me, so he was going to be my wingman for part of the show. If it matters, and it really doesn’t but folks like to blog about food, I had a nice double cheeseburger and some tomato basil soup. Then we hit a local department store on the way and I found a nice Mego Hammer Frankenstein. It seemed on theme for the day’s events, so I thought I’d mention it. I collect all the Mego monsters and get a real kick out of them. As a child of the seventies I always felt bad that I missed out on them when they were new so that wasn’t going to happen to me again.

We finally arrived at the Palace before the first screening. Had a few minutes to wander around talking to the dealers. There weren’t a lot of vendors setup, mostly I think due to the lack of space. They only have the upper and lower lobbies for tables. But I did meet some nice people and scoped somethings out for later purchase. Then it was time for the first movie.

Target Earth (1954) is a fun little science fiction flick with some familiar names attached. I’ve always liked this one and have already reviewed it for the site, review link here. I was wondering how the admittedly goofy looking robot monsters were going to play for the audience and I wasn’t disappointed. There was some laughing, but not in a bad way. People were enjoying the movie I think… at least I hope so. I don’t feel the need to go much farther into this one as I’ve reviewed it and you can check that out at the link I’ve already mentioned.

Now this is a proper robot!
After the movie it was time to buy some stuff. I picked up some odds and ends like a cool button and patch. I like to deck my convention gear (jacket, bag) with some spooky themed accessories. I also finally upgraded my old snap case DVD of The Thing from Another World to a nice Blu-ray. If you don’t know what a snap case is it was one of the original cardboard cases for DVDs before they went to the current packaging we are used to now. Sort of a transition from the old cardboard sleeves on VHS and the later hard plastic cases for DVDs with it being a bit of each. Being one of my favorite fifties flicks it was time for this to happen.

There was also a boardgame that is billed as playing out like a movie. They have versions that lean into Aliens (Area 51) and Zombies (Pittsburgh ’68). It looks like a good time and I can’t wait to break them out and get a few sessions in. One other thing I grabbed was a t-shirt inspired by some of the animation in the credits for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I love that movie and you hardly ever find anything related to it. But then if anyone was going to have something it would be Monster Bash.

Richard called it a day before the second movie started so I was flying solo. The Thing from Another World (1951) is another favorite of mine. This was a big deal for me since it is the first time that I ever had the chance to watch it on the big screen in a proper theater. This is another movie that I’ve already covered for the site, which you can check out here. The short of it is an alien attacks an isolated research facility at the North Pole and it is up to Kenneth Tobey and friends to save the Earth! It was a blast and the crowd was a lot less silly with this movie. It still has the ability to be creepy and engaging to a modern audience used to explicit gore and violence.

Between this and the next screening I wandered around the vendors area again. Talked to some more attendees about nerdy movie stuff. That is a must for me since I don’t have people in my regular life that are into these like I am. It is always good to be amongst “my people”. I also found another t-shirt, this time a cool Bowery Boys themed Monster Bash shirt. I love those movies and do plan on covering all fifty plus of them someday for the site. Then it was time for the next movie to start.

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) is a movie that I have always loved. I remember distinctly catching it the first time on Superhost which was a local Saturday afternoon movie show here in Northeast Ohio. As a kid I loved the aliens, which even if you haven’t seen the movie (and many folks haven’t) are iconic enough that people recognize them even if they don’t know what movie they came from.

I realized as of the writing of this I’ve not covered the movie for the site. I need to do that sooner rather than later as again it is one of my favorites. Because of that I’ll go into a bit more detail with this movie. Here we have adults ignoring the teenagers, the army being incompetent, creepy little aliens, and a bull that loves to drink beer! Bullets don’t hurt them but headlights do and they will kill you by injecting you with alcohol… which mostly just makes people drunk. The movie plays out like a parody of the creature flicks of the era with a healthy bit of satire of authority figures. That last bit is very different from what I’d expect of a movie like this. The army and adults in general are incompetent and not to be trusted. As an adult I dig the subtlety of it though the younger me just liked the monsters.

There was another movie to be shown yet but I’ve already seen The Blob (1958) before in a theater. Hell, it was at the Canton Palace Theater (link to my write up here). It had been a long day and I’m not as young as I used to be so I decided to call it after Saucer Men ended. I consider this to be another successful day of nerding out and can’t wait for next year when I get to do it all again.

With that in mind I highly recommend you check out Monster Bash’s website. The show is shaping up to be a good time and I never need that much of an excuse to visit Pittsburgh! If you happen to be in the Canton Ohio area you should check out The Canton Palace Theater. They have some fun screenings coming up with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Animal House. They haven’t put anything up for October yet, but they also normally have at least a Rocky Horror showing around the 31st. Oh and I must recommend their Three Stooges night that normally takes place in April. Check out their website here for more information and to see what they announce.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, August 21, 2023

Podcast 19

Well here we go again. If you haven't noticed I have been on a few podcasts. I had been on a break, which I'm sure most of you have been happy about. Then Donovan aka. Monster asked me to do a show with him. We have three in the can but this is the first one to go live. 

You can expect a healthy dose of movie chat. There will be one featured movie that will get a bit of a deeper dive and a lot of other cinematic ramblings. And be warned I do ramble quite a bit. If this sounds like something you might dig click the link below to check out the Spotify page for it. I know that we also hope to have a YouTube option as well as iTunes. Remember though you get what you pay for and this shit is free! 

edit 9/5/23: The show is now officially available on Apple Podcasts. See the link below. 

edit 11/7/23: It appears that Apple Podcasts is having an issue. Only the first two episodes are available there. Luckily the Spotify link is up to date. 

Spotify Link

Apple Podcasts Link

Episode Guide

Episode 1: Evil Dead Rise (2023)

John and Donovan talk about this latest attempt to breath some life into the Deadites. Does it work? Does John yell at the folks to get off his lawn? Who knows what shenanigans the boys get up to in this inaugural episode. Well I do... but I'm not telling!

Episode 2: The Pope's Exorcist (2023)

This time around the boys talk about the latest Russel Crowe jam as well as some of their favorite movies. Is it possible that John has found two new horror movies that he actually likes? If so is the Devil ice skating? And if he is ice skating will Crowe show up to kick him out of the rink? So many questions...

Episode 3: Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

With the passing of Paul Reubens as well as our intention to talk all movies and not just horror we thought it might be nice to chat about this iconic comedy. Personally it has been a while since I've reviewed a comedy and I was already looking for an excuse to watch this flick again. 

Episode 4: Sorcerer (1977)

With the passing of director William Friedkin we thought it would be fun to check out one of his lesser known flicks. Well at least I hadn't seen it before, I think that Donovan was already a fan. There was also some fun talk about an old film noir flick I found called Kansas City Confidential

Episode 5: Blind Fury (1989)

After chatting about the current slate of super hero flicks John and Donovan then do a deep dive on the Rutger Hauer flick Blind Fury. This take on the classic Blind Swordsman story is a fun bit of '80s VHS cheese. 

Episode 6: Going the Distance (2010)

This time around John and Donovan do a deep dive on a little talked about romantic comedy starring Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, In addition to Going the Distance they chat about their favorite horror movies to watch in October. 

Episode 7: Letters to Satan Claus (2020)

This was our Christmas show. John and Donovan talk about their favorite festive movies with a focus on on the SyFy channel flick Letters to Satan Claus. You have to be careful about those spelling errors... they can really backfire on you. 

Episode 8: Four Rooms (1995)

We did a Christmas show so why not a New Years Day show? Though the list of available movies is much smaller John and Donovan did find this series of shorts directed by the Miramax regulars Tarantino and Rodriguez as well as a couple of others. And they ask the most important of questions... are we allowed to like Miramax movies anymore? 

Boo (2005)

It was time to check out the offerings on Amazon Prime again. Yeah, I know the last few times I’ve done this it hasn’t worked out well. But there must be some gem hiding from me on that service. Keeping hope alive I saw Boo and figured it was time to check out another generic ghost story set in an abandoned insane asylum. Can’t have enough of those.

It is Halloween and a bunch of twentysomethings are planning to have a big party. The annoying boyfriend decides to have it at a local abandoned insane asylum that is rumored to be haunted. He convinces his girlfriend with a dark backstory who has had visions since her mother died to go along.

In a parallel plot there is a guy who is looking for his missing sister who was last seen going to another impromptu party at the same asylum. Honestly, they need better security, but I digress. He goes to ask his father’s former partner, he was a cop, for help. The man, Arlo, complains it is out of his jurisdiction and tells him he can’t help. Though almost immediately follows him anyway. Did I mention that Arlo was a former Blaxploitation star? I thought that was going to be important later, but it isn’t.

Once everyone has arrived, they go in and are trapped by the ghost that haunts the place. There are attempts to create a backstory for one of the patients being a child murder/molester who was killed in a fire during a failed escape attempt. Sound familiar? More on that later. There are other ghosts of those who died in the fire because a brave nurse threw the keys out of the window to stop the escape from happening. Wait she is our hero because she doomed a bunch of innocent folks to a horrible death including a young girl? Okay don’t overthink it… In the end the bad ghost is defeated and a few of our characters make it out. The end.

This isn’t a good movie. The story is utterly generic and lacks any new or creative twist that would allow it to not remind me of much better movies. Don’t believe me? Well, we have the horribly burnt child molesting ghost that gets inside your head and dreams… Nightmare on Elm Street. Then there is the wheelchair that keeps rolling itself around as well as a ball that likes to roll down hallways… The Changeling. The movie even opens with an obscene phone call that turns out to be a friend who was chewing or some other nonsense… Halloween. Damn it movie don’t remind me how bad you are by blatantly referencing things I’d much rather be watching!

The pacing is also terrible. We get scene after scene of them walking around in the dark with some flashbacks that I guess are supposed to reveal plot details but aren’t all that interesting. When something does happen, it is crappy CGI. I did find the one oddball twist of the possessed folks melting when a ghost takes them over. This leads to quite a few characters popping like a balloon when getting shot. The attempts at building suspense or jump scares also fell flat. This is a ghost story that is neither spooky nor creepy. I found the entire proceeding to be tedious and generally unpleasant.

A couple of other things to note. The nurse in the flashbacks is played by Dee Wallace. It is very sad when I see an actor or actress slumming it for a paycheck. I don’t blame them, they have bills to pay, but to be utterly wasted in junk like Boo is a bummer. Also the reason I gave this one a shot is that the director Anthony C. Ferrante is best known as the director and creator of the Sharknado franchise. Had he gone silly and over the top here the movie might have worked but he didn’t, and it doesn’t. I can’t recommend this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, August 18, 2023

Tales of the Third Dimension (1984)

Movies like Tales of the Third Dimension is why I continually dig thru piles of crap looking for that diamond in the rough. I suppose that is a bit of a spoiler to lead with, but I can’t help myself. This direct to video (at least that is what the sources I have found say) is a prime example of the sorts of oddball regional flicks that were made in the early days of the home video market. This one being shot in North Carolina is an anthology, has some 3D gags in the wrap around, and is generally just silly. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie kicks off in a cemetery where a coffin pops open and a skeleton named Igor sits up. He speaks just like Rod Serling and sets the stage for the upcoming story as well as popping back up in between to introduce the others as well as wrapping it all up in the end. Along with Igor the cemetery has two groups of vultures. A pair that are imitating Laurel and Hardy and a trio that are clearly the Three Stooges. We get some comedy from them in each segment, and I can’t lie I laughed more than once at them.

All of this is brought to the screen with puppets that while not the greatest do get the job done. Additionally there are a few 3D gags with things popping out at the viewer that aren’t terribly distracting. Just to be clear I watched this on VHS without any 3D. That also explains the title of the movie if you think about it. Though ironically none of the stories use it at all.

Before I continue, I need to warn you that my reviews are going to contain some spoilers. I tried to figure out how to explain why I like this anthology so much without ruining any of the plot, but I couldn’t sort it out. You already know that I dig this flick so if that is a deal breaker stop here and track yourself down a copy. Cool? Okay now we can get to the good stuff.

The first story is titled Young Blood and has us following a pair of co-workers as they take an unconventional home visit in the evening to vet a potential couple for adopting a child. This is Dudley and Ms. Marquette. There is some talk of Dudley wanting her job, which is important later, as they drive to a creepy old house. When they get there it is obvious due to the cape, and bad accents that the Count and Countess are vampires. Dudley protests but Ms. Marquette clearly is under their thrall and agrees to bring them a child.

The next scene is her returning the following night with a young boy. While the Countess takes him upstairs to settle in the Count drains Ms. Marquette as a reward for her help. That seems like a bad deal to me. What is an even worse deal is when it becomes apparent that something is up with their newest acquisition. Seems that the kid is a werewolf and after killing the vampires is picked up the following morning by his father… Dudley! Guess he got that promotion.

Our host Igor!
This will be a theme for all these reviews of the individual segments, but the budget is clearly very low. Though they had a decent location, which helps sell the story. The vampires have cheesy clothes, and the fangs are costume store quality. We also don’t see the werewolf much at all as they keep it hidden. Given the lack of resources that was probably a good call. The pacing is solid and takes just enough time to setup the situation so that the twist pays off. This is my second favorite of the three.

The second story is titled The Guardians. It begins with a horse drawn hearse delivering a body to a funeral. This is to introduce us to Nigel, the gravedigger. After he has finished his job he returns to his home to find a couple of his “friends” waiting for him. Freddie and Charley have a few drinks and ask about the woman he just covered up. Specifically, about her jewelry. You can probably see where this is going. They have decided to become graverobbers and dig her up for some easy cash.

Not satisfied with this score they decide to go back and force Nigel to tell them where the hidden entrance to the catacombs under the old cemetery is located. Why? Well that seems like a much easier job then digging them all up you see. After some violence they find it and discover that there are a lot of rats… rats that like to eat people! You might have figured this out already, but it doesn’t end well for the pair. 

Of the three stories this was my least favorite. It isn’t bad but was fairly generic with a twist that you could see coming a mile away. I also feel like I’ve seen this before and done much better. Though again I must point out that the locations for this with the cemetery and tunnels were surprisingly good for a lower budget production. The only other thing of note here is the appearance of Leon Rippey (The Patriot, Eight Legged Freaks) as one of the grave robbers. He is the only recognizable face from any of these so that was fun to see.

The third and final segment is called Visions of Sugar Plums. This one was the strangest and in the end my favorite of the bunch. It is the week before Christmas and a young brother and sister are dropped off at Grandma’s house. Mom and Dad are headed out for a vacation in Hawaii and have left the kids at home. They don’t seem too annoyed by it though since Grandma is a nice lady. When she takes her pills that is. When she doesn’t she apparently becomes a homicidal maniac! Guess who ran out of pills?

Festive homicidal granny!
The rest of the movie is the increasingly crazy old lady yelling at the children before finally snapping on Christmas Eve. It is at this point she grabs a shotgun and starts to chase them down. Make no mistake she is trying to murder them both. When she runs out of shells it seems that they are safe from the wheelchair bound woman. That is until she grabs the hedge clippers! It looks as if they are doomed when she corners them and gets ready to trim their limbs all the time cackling maniacally. Then Santa Claus shows up and kills her by shooting her keister right up out of the chimney and into a nearby field!

For much of Visions of Sugar Plums I wasn’t feeling it. The story drags a bit as we slowly see her lose her mind. I also though the child actors weren’t good enough to carry the story, which they were asked to do. But when the weapons get broken out and the chase through the house begins things did pick up. And that ending, which comes out of nowhere, sealed the deal for me. I damn near fell out of my chair but in a good way. This immediately became my new go to Christmas horror movie or at least this final segment did.

Is Tales of the Third Dimension a great movie? Not at all. But there is a charm to these low budget regional movies, at least when done correctly, that I get a kick out of. This one is a perfect balance of decent storytelling, passable acting, and a tongue in cheek sensibility that appealed to me. I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of this before but am so glad that my pack rat self picked up a copy and held onto it. I also understand that this is one of those “holy grail” tapes that collectors are always looking for. I can completely understand that. It might take some doing but if you can find a copy, I highly recommend checking it out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1988)

I own a lot of terrible movies. Sometimes I’m surprised by how bad they are and other times I know what I’m getting myself into. This is the latter of those choices. While I’ve never seen this movie before I had my suspicions. Partly due to Albert Pyun being the director. Let me be clear I do like some of his stuff, but he has also made some stinkers. To the best of my knowledge this is the only movie that he ever had his name taken off of. When Pyun is embarrassed to have his name on a movie that is frightening.

The action starts off in England… well actually South Africa which is standing in for England and later for Hawaii. We meet Crystina, a nanny who is in the process of getting fired. She goes back to the agency that sent her there prepared to be let go by them as well. A weird call comes in and she is sent to Hawaii… again South Africa standing in for it… to work. When she arrives there is a rock star who has hired her to take care of his baby. His baby is a dog. Okay now what?

Here we meet Richard, a young man, who along with his younger brother and sister Bryan and Sara sneak off to explore a cave. Did I mention the park they go to is closed because of the volcano erupting nearby? There is a mix up where they end up with the dog, so Crystina ends up at the park with them. For some unknown reason she goes into the cave with them. Then there is an earthquake and Sara is left on the surface while the rest of them get trapped below. This is the last time we see Sara, who must be all of five or six. They walk a bit going deeper underground until they stop. Then they have dreams which means we get what appears to be footage that didn’t fit into the cut of the movie, so they just dumped scenes in as dreams. Waste not want not I suppose.

Then Richard goes one direction and is rescued by his parents and the National Guard. How does that make sense? It doesn’t. Crystina and the younger brother, Bryan fall down a hole and land in Atlantis. They meet a bunch of characters that were in Alien from L.A. which was another Pyun directed flick from earlier in the same year. Random stuff happens that makes not a bit of sense and then suddenly Bryan is at his home watching television about Crystina getting married to a guy from Atlantis who we barely saw on screen. Seems that they have opened diplomatic relations with the surface. Wait what? I give up.

Holy shit this is an awful movie. Though it makes sense since it apparently was cobbled together from a couple of other projects to meet some contractually obligated film. The budget was cut so even the new stuff that was shot looks cheap and doesn’t fit with the footage that was left over from Alien from L.A. and feels awkward. This does make sense because it certainly seems like a project put together by accountants and lawyers to get them out from under an agreement. There is no story, characters disappear at random, and the narrative jumps all over the place. I hate to use words like trash and/or garbage when reviewing a movie but if no effort is being made to make it watchable then it seems fair. I can see why Pyun was angry enough to force his name be removed from it.

It is odd that I recognized a couple of familiar faces in this movie. Ian Mitchell-Smith from Weird Science and The Wild Life is Bryan. Charlotte Stewart of Tremors fame appears for a hot minute as the kid’s mother. Hell IMDB even claims that Emo Phillips is in this. Though honestly, I didn’t see him and I’m sure as hell not going to watch this crap again just to find him. I’ll just have to trust the internet on this one. We also get to see stills of Kathy Ireland, who was the star from the previously mentioned Alien from L.A. but don’t be fooled into thinking she is in this movie. Lots of the posters and home video covers have her on them. She isn’t in this flick at all.

How did a film company waste the talent that was available for Journey to the Center of the Earth? As best I can tell this project was lying around during the end of the Golan-Globus/Cannon era. Again, the feeling that it was finished by accountants is making a lot of sense here. I think that they were trying to squeeze any value out of the company during some rough years. Please do me a favor and make the time I spent watching this mean something by avoiding it. Let me take this one for the team. Just to be clear this movie sucks and I’m telling you not to watch it. Cool? Okay I’m going to go question my life choices now. See you next time around.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, August 14, 2023

La Loba aka. The She Wolf (1965)

I keep finding odd movies in my “to watch” pile and this is yet another of them. It turns out that this is a Mexican made horror flick about a lady werewolf. It was made during the Santo and other wrestlers vs. monster fad that lasted until the early eighties, but there isn’t a luchador to be seen in this bad boy. What do we get? Might as well pop it in and see.

The opening scene is very cool with the camera starting on a cross and pulling back to reveal a cemetery. A furry hand pushes back the stone from a tomb and a full on werewolf creature climbs out. We don’t see the face of the creature but do get to see it go on a rampage and murder three folks. This is all in the first ten minutes of the movie, which also has not a bit of dialogue but is just the creature moving around the woods jumping and slinking like an animal. Very cool stuff.

Then things go a bit of the rails. After the creature crawls back into the grave we see that it isn’t a grave at all but is a tunnel that leads to a nearby house. The werewolf is a woman named Clarissa and she is one of two daughters who live there with there mother and father, Professor Fernandez. Once the characters start speaking the movie grinds to a halt. Clarissa’s secret fiancĂ©, Dr. Bernstein, shows up to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Here is where we realize that the professor knows what his daughter is. He is experimenting with freezing things in an effort to cure her affliction. They never explain how this will help, but it is what he is doing.

On the subject of not explaining things, we find out that Dr. Bernstein is also a werewolf. Did he infect her, or did she infect him? Don’t worry about that since we never find out. He wolfs out and goes into the woods to stalk a deaf girl. Then a man with a dog shows up and the dog damn near kills the werewolf. The man is a hunter who is looking for lycanthropes… the fancy name for werewolves. Is he tracking Bernstein or is it the girl? Don’t worry about that since we never find out. After more talking the pair of monsters are dispatched by the dog and an ivory knife. Why ivory? Do you really have to ask?

Clearly this movie isn’t very good. The plot is all over the place and never takes the time to explain the rules to these creatures. It also has characters appear and disappear for long stretches without explanation. It makes for a choppy and confusing watch. This is very disappointing because the first ten minutes with the lady werewolf running around was establishing an interesting and engaging story. Again, I remind you they did this without a line of dialogue. It seems that all their creativity must have been expended in this brief opening bit because it is all downhill from there.

Much like the plot the movie teases the audience with the appearance of the first werewolf. Initially seen only from the back the actor appears to be wearing a body suit with some fur on it and amusingly a large tail. That is a first for me I think. The way that they move around the woods and stalk the victims as well as the way the attacks are staged really sell the creature and how animalistic it is. But eventually we get to see her face and realize that it is nothing more than the actress with some whiskers and pointy teeth. It looks downright silly. The male werewolf is running around with some fur pasted to the actor’s chest while still wearing his suit pants. So not much to speak about there. Again, I wish they had carried the early creativity throughout the entire movie because they were onto something. We also get a couple old school transformation scenes that I’ll admit worked well enough.

La Loba is an interesting movie that as a nerd for Mexican horror I’m glad to have checked out. But unless you have the same need to watch all examples of a subgenre, I don’t think that this flick has much to offer. I know that I’ll never need to check it out again. I suppose you can consider this a non-recommendation.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer